Thom & Aimee

Two Hobbits. The Kitchen. The Garden. And trouble ensues.

Tag: seasonal

Pancakes and A Broken Heart

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As I write this now, February will almost be over. How did we even start 2016? I am not one who bares my heart so readily on this blog, because why should I anyway? This is about Thom and Aimee, isn’t it? But I realised how food and cooking heals, and how the chef can translate his or her love through the dish. No, it’s not about Valentine’s (which is long over). It’s about starting the New Year with a broken heart and the healing process.

To be honest, I’ve expected this to happen back in last December. I think we all know how big a procrastinator I am, so I’ve dragged ending an almost-relationship (this term is funny no?) long enough. It is not to say that it hurt lesser by having the mental readiness, because nothing can really prepare you from an actual broken heart. Strangely, it was accompanied with relief and some peace. And then, the rally from loved ones around you that made you understand who actually truly cared.

Nothing comforts one best when your own sister wakes you up with homemade pancakes on a rainy weekend (great for mopping around while looking pretty). Ned makes the Crêpe Suzette almost every day at work, but it’s not about the dullness of routine that mattered. It’s always special when someone creates a dish from scratch for no special reason whatsoever, but just so you, the diner, can at least smile.

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The performance that comes with a Crêpe Suzette is alluring and magnetic. Maybe it was my emotional state that made the dish more romantic than it seemed. Yet, to watch the blue flames dance upon the delicate golden pancakes and the bright caramelised sauce bubble with slight ferocity was almost hypnotising. To be honest, nothing was romantic because Ned was screaming her head off when she splashed the liqueur into the pan. And you’d think she does this for a living.

But that’s what cooking is all about. Happiness, sadness, laughter, tears, and maybe all at once. It’s not uncommon to see people disappear into the kitchen to celebrate or to mourn. Or to eat cause they are just damn fucking hungry. There is something therapeutic about the whole process, whether it’s for you or someone else. That’s why I decided it was alright to talk about something personal alongside Thom and Aimee. Because both are important and so intrinsic with each other.

They say time heals, but I say, nothing heals better than a noisy kitchen that fills the house with the aromatic heady fragrance of citrus on a wet morning. It is difficult still, but I know things will get better. Hey, you know what, I did smile when eating those pancakes. Those were darn good pancakes.

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Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Sour Cream, Dill and Caviar

We are back, guys. Not that we were missed (if you did, let us hug you), but we are finally back in the kitchen and hopefully, staying for longer. There was about a year of hiatus and nothing really stirred in our kitchen. I guess life just got really hectic. In the past year, Ned’s switched bakeries, we travelled, and well, both our schedules just didn’t fit despite living in the same house. Sometimes, we barely even have time to sit down to catch up on each other’s lives.

At times, it just takes a little ingredient to start the ball rolling. In our case, our brother came home with tiny tubs of opulent black pearls – caviar. How obnoxiously decadent. Well, he managed to get them for free. So it’s not like we get such freebies frequently. It was left in the fridge for quite awhile until mom egged us to get rid of it.

Well, those pearls started an avalanche then. I forwarded Ned a link about blinis one odd day with these words: let’s do them this Sunday.

She texted a reply almost immediately, “Yeah sure.”.

I guess there was always a silent urge to return to where we found comfort and solace: in that tiny kitchen that used to overflow with too much food. We started bouncing menu ideas off each other, conversations hovered around the current culinary landscape in Singapore, food trends around the world, food politics, our favourite food writers and of course, recipes of our favourite dishes. I’m sure Ned shares the same sentiment: I really love and miss talking about our number one love and passion.

Back to the caviar. We didn’t want to fuss about creating a complicated dish, especially on a lazy Sunday morning. Brunch was invented for the late wakers with bad hangovers, and stylish creative types with 10k Instagram followers. We love them too… waking up to it, that is. Not making them because that would mean you actually have to wake up really early in the morning to prepare food for lazy asses. To make our Sunday less of a chore, simple buckwheat Russian pancakes are probably the best solution.

(Although Ned did point out that the inclusion of yeast in the batter only meant more work for her, as compared to a typical American pancake. There was a two-hour waiting time, which also meant a quick shut-eye. Well, blame it on the caviar.)

The best thing was that we only needed to make the blinis. Slap the pancakes with some sour cream, smoked salmon, dill and caviar – and there’s breakfast ready. Or get creative and top the blinis with other ingredients: avocado, beetroot, goat’s cheese, pesto, roast beef…. the list is endless really. In fact, we made too many of them and had them with roasted pork belly for lunch after.

If that Sunday morning was any indication for things to come, well, I can safely say that we definitely are back and staying for good. And that we, or rather I, have a slight obsession with comfort brunch food.

Recipe was adapted from here.

Issue 14: Durian

Alright, pledge your allegiance now. There can only be two sides to this important matter, you’re either on Team Durian or Team How-The-Hell-Are-You-Not-On-Team-Durian. Well, the fact that we have dedicated this issue to the prickly fruit, it’s glaringly obvious that we love our durians. And when we say ‘love’, we meant insanely obsessed. We cannot say the word ‘durian’ and not turn into a couple of rabid hyperventilating dorks. (I’m twitching in my seat at this moment. I. Need. Durian.)

“If you don’t love durian, you are not Singaporean” – there goes the saying. Of course, you are not forced to consume it to become a Singaporean, but it just shows how well-loved this fruit is. Not just in Singapore, it’s deemed the King of Fruits in the whole of South East Asia. (It should be for the world wide world.) Comes durian season (from late May to Early August), you’d find five-star hotels and fine-dining restaurants churning out durian desserts of sorts. Some even travel to neighbouring countries to have a durian-centred feast. There was even a durian buffet. A bloody buffet that allows you to eat all the durians you want! And yes, we went for that. *evil cackle*

To strangers to this odd food, durians can be an offensive assault to your senses. With sharp thorns covering every millimetre of the husk, you would think it’s probably dangerous to consume it. I think Mother Nature was just being a selfish bitch to deter us from eating such heavenly stuff.

Then, there’s the smell. Most are turned off by its pungent and rank stench. If you go onto google, you’d find descriptions such as rotten sewage, dead rats and smelly socks. Basically, one can hardly phantom why anyone would put durians in their mouth. Its fragrance is so strong that it’s literally banned in hotels or public transport. You can eat durians and become a durian-farting machine for the next few days. That’s how potent these stuff are. But sorry, dude, we find the smell of durians A-MAH-ZING. If our neighbours from three floors up are eating durians, we would know and we would be awfully filled with envy.

Past the smell, you pick up this gooey, creamy (sometimes watery) glob of yellow-orange flesh. If you thought the smell was intense, the fruit itself is like getting multiple special combo-attacks. It’s Hadouken, Kamehameha, Bankai and Gomu Gomu all at once. You have received 10000000 damage and have to respawn for the next 500 times. But if you can go beyond the smells and first taste, you’d find how amazingly complex durians are. The custard-like flesh can go from caramel sweet to bittersweet. You may find hints of nuts, caramel and fruits such as mango and overripe bananas.

We tried quite a few varieties for erm, research. From mao shan wang (loosely translated as mountain cat king), D24, D13, XO to jin feng (golden phoenix), hong xia (red prawn) and butter durians. And that’s just the top of the list. After so many durians, our taste buds got a little numb. Our reactions slowly became useless information like “arghmagawd” to “ugh, pass”. In any case, stick to the winners such as mao shan wang and D24. Though, we do love the ultra sweet butter durians as well.

Because of its overpowering flavours, it’s tough to pair durians with any other ingredient. The easiest way is to complement the pronounced notes present in the fruit. We looked at nuts, tropical fruits such as mangosteen and mangoes, and local foods such as palm sugar. The idea was to inject the awesomeness of durian into classic French desserts, with a touch of local flavours. Ah~ anything durian just works for me.

I could go on and on about durians. This controversial fruit may not be the most crowd-pleasing and it divides people into two distinct camps. But in my memories, it was about having the whole family squatting on the newspaper-covered floor as we slurp the buttery flesh off our fingers. Well, our youngest sister would be behind a closed door trying to avoid the smells. And that itself is one quirky memory to have.

Issue 13: Coffee

I have no memory of how we started drinking coffee. In fact, we grew up drinking tea (especially with dim sum breakfasts). Though, our parents never stopped us from sipping on their cups of coffee at a tender age. Maybe it was the introduction of Frappuccinos and flavoured coffee beverages from the mass coffee spots such as Starbucks that got us into drinking coffee. But I do not remember, because coffee and us go way back.

First of all, I’m going to make this clear: we are no coffee snobs. Really, we do appreciate a good cuppa but if you ask us if our coffee was single estate (what the hell is that anyway), we are not that anal. As long as the caffeine does its job, we are happy birds. So if you are expecting to learn about the degree of the roast or what soil the coffee tree grew in, we don’t speak coffee like the hipsters down Everton Park. With all due respect, we admire those who pursue the art of coffee. It’s a passion I wished we had.

However, I did visit the local library to do a little research and it was like opening a can of worms. The amount of information to digest was immense – from its history, botanical classifications (Arabica or Robusta), grading systems, countries of origin to coffee characteristics, cupping, roasting, grinding and different brewing methods. (You can even choose your beans based on seasonality!) Basically, I could regurgitate whatever I read but what would be the point really? You can always flip any issue of Kinfolk or visit your nearest cafe to know the details of your cuppa.

Coffee used to be a drink to perk up mornings, now it’s all about it being part of a lifestyle. Every week, I hear at least three new we-roast-out-own-beans cafes are opening in different parts of Singapore. But with such enthusiasm comes exposure to much more important matters: coffee and its effects on the world and slave trade. We are not foreign to the terms fair trade or sustainable farming. As with all types of agriculture, it’s always a business first. If there is demand, there would be supply.

Here’s a good example: Kopi Luwak (civet coffee, or more famously known as the coffee made out of beans from animal shit) is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. What started as a novelty and appreciated by coffee connoisseurs became an environmental disaster and helping hand to animal cruelty. Just read this article in Guardian to understand how much an innocent-looking cup of coffee isn’t all that wholesome anymore. Even your convenient Nespresso cup of coffee is contributing to global wastage with its capsules.

I’m not sure how many of the so-called hipster coffee-enthusiasts joints actually care about the provenance of the beans they use. It’s just so easy to cash in on trends without the actual passion of serving really tasty coffee without the sense of guilt. Why care so much for just coffee? Well, because you might not have it soon. As much as we don’t have the same amount of obsessions as hipsters (okay, we are not mocking them but how else to refer them as? Erm, indie folks?), if they are bringing about a wave of green coffee, then I guess the influx of cafes isn’t such a bad thing after all.

I shall go make a cup of coffee now.

Issue 12: Vanilla

There is no any other more common flavour than plain old vanilla. A good partner in crime to many other foods, vanilla complements a wide range of ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, custard, other spices such cardamom and cinnamon, and even with seafood. Have a slice of warm apple pie, moist chocolate brownie or even a glass of coke? Top a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it, and you’ll have a luscious treat. I was one of those who didn’t really care about vanilla (too boring). Dependable, familiar, old-fashioned – the number of synonyms you can use on vanilla is endless. Vanilla was just too common.

Here’s where the oddity appears: vanilla is extremely expensive. Everyone might have easy access to vanilla-flavoured foods, but no one really understands how decadent the common vanilla is. Of course, we are talking about the real stuff. The sticky, almost pungent, brown little twigs with tiny little caviar-like seeds in it. Behind saffron, it is the second most expensive spice in the world. And it’s not difficult to understand why.

Just do a little read on how vanilla is harvested and the growing conditions needed, you’ll probably treasure vanilla a lot more than you do now. I remember watching documentary on BBC (channel-flipping brings me to strange places) and there I was, learning how vanilla was produced. The very first vanilla beans were discovered by Totonac Indians in Mexico, but yet again, it was the adventurous Spanish who shared this very special ingredient with the rest of the world. As usual, world goes gaga over it and everyone wants a piece of it. But they just couldn’t grow the damn bean in their own backyard. Up until the mid 19th century, Mexico had monopoly in the market of vanilla. It wasn’t that the Europeans weren’t enterprising enough. They just forgot to bring the bees back with them. (The bees in Mexico just know how get the orchids fruiting.)

The person the modern world needs to thank is Edmond Albius, a slave who found a way to pollinate the vanilla orchids by hand (a method still used today). Without him, a scoop of vanilla ice cream probably costs $1000. Just remember he died in poverty and probably never tasted vanilla ice cream before. So, remember Edmond Albius when you eat anything vanilla. Okay, enough documentary talk. Anyway, other than the fact that pollinating the flowers are so time consuming, the beans have to be harvested by hand, killed (submersion in a hot bath), sweat, dried and conditioned. The whole curing cycle is six months worth of laborious-intensive work (and I’m excluding growing and harvesting).

We managed to get hold of some vanilla pods of assorted variety. Like wine, the flavour of vanilla is often affected by its surroundings such as soil and growing conditions, and curing methods. You can just look at how different each variety look from the other. Some beans are broader than the other, some are tinged with copper or bronze.

The most well-known and probably most popular is the Madagascan (or Bourbon) vanilla beans. Rich, creamy and sweet flavour, its versatility lends itself to many recipes. While the Madagascan bean had a smooth fragrance, the original vanilla – Mexican beans impart smokey, complex and almost spicy notes. If you take a sniff, it’s as though you get a punch straight in the nose. But the King of vanilla is no doubt the Tahitian beans. With an intense fruity, floral aroma that is almost like a mix of cherry, chocolate and licorice, Tahitian vanilla is exceptional in custards and creams. (I personally love smelling its intoxicating scent. Jo Malone needs to make a one.)

The big three are not the only varieties available in the market, there are many other beans that you can sample. The Ugandan bean is almost like the Mexican with its bold aroma without the sharp smokiness. It has a very earthy raisin-like flavour that works well in rich and chocolate desserts. But the Indonesian beans beat both the Ugandan and Mexican in terms of intensity. Its woody flavour might sometimes be deemed too strong, but they are perfect for recipes made with lots of butterfat or cream.

The Tongan beans are another bold-flavoured vanilla that strangely works well in not only sweets, but savoury dishes (use them for dressings and marinades). They also stand up very well against chocolate with its unique fig-and-bark characteristics. Last but not least, the Indian vanilla beans are very similar to Madagascan beans with its sweet (almost too saccharine for my liking) and woodsy flavours. Comparatively plumper in size, they contain a very large amount of seeds.

(Now, my nose is clogged with smelling too much beans.)

It might seem rather confusing to decide which beans for what dish, but really, there is no strict rule. Whatever works for your palate. However, once you start using real vanilla beans, it will be tough to go back to your convenient vanilla extracts. Of course, we still depend very much on our bottled extracts and bean pastes if time was a constraint. Buying vanilla might seem like a luxury but no part of the vanilla will be wasted. The pods can be used to make vanilla sugars, extracts or infused liquors (it is actually the pod that imparts most of the flavour, not the caviar seeds).

After tasting the real stuff, vanilla did not appear faceless or unmemorable. In fact, I think I have a new found respect for the little guys. But I do think I need to lie down for awhile – too much of a vanilla overdose.

Issue 11: Pears

Note to myself: Never make promises on deadlines. I am officially the best procrastinator on this island. At least, I’m good at submitting late posts, that’s something to probably ‘brag’ about.

Okay, I digress.

In this household, we consume apples almost on a daily basis (even our dog loved them). If you peep into our fridge, there is a probability of 99% that there will be an apple over a pear. Compared to the crisp apple, there was a lack of crunchiness to be found in pears, they tend to be grainy and break down into a pulpy mush the moment you bite into them. Or perhaps, we have just been eating overripe pears to fully experience the actual lushness of the fruit. For that very reason, we figured it’s time we gave these voluptuous pears the attention they deserve.

That saying, we shouldn’t have put the pear against the apple. They are both utterly different in terms of texture, fragrance and taste. While an apple delivers punchy fruity notes, the pear offers subdued honeyed and floral flavours. The pear is like the awkward introverted kid in a party beside the boisterous loud apple, but in an one-on-one setting, you’ll find that the pear has a quiet confidence that will mesmerise and inspire. (Wow, I just made myself connect to pears on an endearing level now.)

With a determination to showcase the pear in its full glory, we surfed through the internet hoping to get a local supplier of pears but it seems our weather probably doesn’t permit the growing of pear trees. So it was off to scouring the markets for them. It’s good (and a little sad) to know that out of more than 400 varieties of pears, there is only a handful available to the public. And maybe because it’s not grown locally, the list is a lot shorter as compared to pear-growing countries. Our grocery notebook spotted the common Asian pear that is available all year round, and the occasional Packham, Conference, Anjou and Forelle, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Bosc and Williams.

Sadly, while we were shopping around for these sensual babies, the only varieties we could get our hands on were the Conference and Packham. The first is an elongated fruit with freckled skin and is a great cooking pear, while the latter is a succulent bottom-heavy variety best eaten raw. Our bakes used plenty of the Conference while we kept the Packhams for after-dinner refreshments.

We have paired pears with both savoury and sweet dishes before, and found the contrast of having pear present in a savoury dish most satisfying. Especially in salads with pungent blue cheeses and nuts. They go very well with spice like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; are lovely companions to pork and game; and definitely shine alongside chocolate. In fact, pears such a versatile fruit, I wonder why we haven’t actually cooked them more. Pies, cakes, jams, tarts and biscuits, or even poached – they are no stranger to a dessert table.

Now, our Dad keeps stealing our Conference pears. Looks like we found a convert.

The Novice Cook: Apples, Pears and Bananas

At this rate, I’m supposed to be highly proficient around the kitchen and basic cooking methods should not faze me. But every single time, I surprise myself at my continued lack of skills and confidence. (In fact, I cooked myself dinner last night. And being alone, I decided on a poor man’s meal of eggs, soy sauce, leftover rice and beetroot. I managed to not cook the eggs properly.)

When Ned finds me rummaging through her sacred grounds, she would stand at the door and ask if I needed any supervision or guidance of sorts before she leaves the house. That’s how much of a dunce I am in the area of culinary arts. Each dish I have cooked was a battle fought – some with crushing defeat and some conquered with pride. Most times, I seek assistance from my parents who willingly help. They rather dirty their hands than me with the kitchen. And this time, Mom had to help me core the fruits because I’ve never done it before – using a knife felt a little daunting then.

Watching my mother skilfully remove the seeds from the fruits, it made me wonder why was there even fear in the first place. Was that what’s stopping people from entering the kitchen? As celebrity chefs show off their impressive chopping moves on television, we are slowly stepping away from actual cooking and relying on microwave meals. I do admit that watching my late mama whipping dinner up was awe-inspiring and yet, also intimidating. In my eyes, cooking was left for those who knew and understood it. With the lack of hands-on experience, cooking slowly became detached from my life. I don’t even know how to use a rice cooker.

That’s slowly changing though. Step by step, I’m learning the basics whether by watching others or plainly experimenting it on my own. I do prefer cooking alone – it pushes me to act on my feet using my own resources and not relying on others. Unfortunately, I had way too much help with this simple recipe from the cutting of the fruits to the toasting of the walnuts. Sure, I did them myself but they were executed under observation. It was like taking a Home Economics exam.

As I watched the fruits caramelise in the oven, peace and calmness settled in. The familiar therapeutic feeling I often get from cooking alone returned. Although my foray into cooking will be a never-ending challenge, but it was one I gladly took. After all, in return, I get to eat fantastic dishes such as this dessert (the baked bananas were sublime and the crunchy walnuts against the soft fruits was a great balance of textures). Nothing really beats cooking with your very own hands.

The recipe can be found here.

Christmas Macarons

It was Macaron Overdose this Christmas, with trays and trays of colourful meringue shells filling the air with saccharine notes. So much so that I can not say ‘macaron’ without a sudden reflux welling up in my system. Both Ned and I have agreed not to mention the ‘M’ word or make any ‘M’s for the next few months. There was really such a thing as having too much of a good thing.

The original plan was to float past Christmas without doing anything at all. We wanted to be away from the kitchen and not fuss over tons of cooking. Festivities tend to bring unnecessary stress despite it being a holiday. (We even decided not to get a tree or do up the house in loads of pine and excessive reds and golds. Christmas this year was pleasantly un-festive.) That was the original plan. Was.

Until we received a text from a friend looking to order for festive macarons. And we obliged to a very very tiny order. Then came a whirlwind of madness, frustrations, sugar, sleepless nights, countless days of experimentation, sudden realisations, sugar, crazed debates on flavour, sugar, extreme fatigue, sugar and more sugar. We would not say much but let’s just put it down that we had a pretty interesting lesson and it never hurt to be a tad wiser in the future. It was simply one good experience to have, but that should hopefully be the first and the last.

Still, it was not all bad and no fun. Conjuring up flavour combinations was always the highlight of any food project. Christmas proved to be an easy challenge with its obvious seasonal offerings: cinnamon, dates, ginger, chestnuts, nutmeg, cranberries, clementines, mincemeat, brandy, peppermint, and so much more. Of course, we could be greedy but over-ambition could lead to serious trouble.

In the end, we settled for six different flavours:

Black Forest
This familiar cake is not a mainstay during Christmas but it was the magical winter wonderland image of a dense deep brown wooded forest capped with the whitest snow that lingered in our minds. It was like staring into a snow globe and watching the white flakes float gracefully – a little like Narnia.

Many different cherries and types of chocolate were tried and tested to recreate the flavours of Black Forest. The final ganache consisted of 70% dark chocolate ganache with a centre of Morello cherry compote. We would have wanted to add a dash of kirsch to intensify the cherry notes but alcohol was not permitted. The shells were coloured in the deepest red to give a big festive kick. It was a tiny pop of a sharp sour cherry flavour amidst the lushness of the chocolate. And it was a joy to bite into bits of actual fruit as well.

Gingerbread
Ahh, ginger… This is one food item that we grew to love as our taste buds mature (okay, we were getting older). We knew there had to be a ginger-flavoured macaron within the six. If you walk down the aisles of any supermarket, food department stores and bakeries, you’d find beautiful gingerbread architectures grace the shopping windows at this time of the year. There was something about having a kick of spice in the cold winters, from a hot cinnamon-chocolate drink or warm ginger date pudding.

It was definitely not winter here, but one can always imagine sitting in front of a fireplace in a snug warm blanket and munching on freshly baked ginger biscuits Grandma made. In our recipe, ground ginger powder and cinnamon was added to the macaron shell. Orange peels were then infused to the milk chocolate ganache for a fruity perfume – chocolate and citrus make good partners! Last but not least, tiny pieces of stem ginger were sprinkled in between the shells to give a good punch of warmness.

Marron Glacé
The famous Christmas song that went “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” created such a romantic picture and it has pretty much become an inside joke between Ned and I. Because chestnuts are a bitch to do –  there, I’ve said it. It only made us appreciate the makers of marron glacés and understand why they were priced exorbitantly. It was a time-consuming and labourous process that involved so many different components: the marron glacé, chestnut paste and chestnut purée. Never before did one macaron cause so much pain and exhaustion.

Because we were that anal to make sure everything was homemade, fresh chestnuts were bought and Ned’s fingers were raw prying the shells and skins off the scalding hot chestnuts with not much help other than a tiny toothpick. After which, three different batches of the nuts were transformed into either the confection, paste or purée.

The paste and purée were incorporated into the ganache, while the marron glacé was chopped and sprinkled over. And we love adding fruit so Conference pears were poached with vanilla pods and cubed to complement the chestnuts. Each time we look at the pinkish chestnut macarons, we sigh knowing that every ounce of effort poured into it was a piece of pure chestnut heaven. And every bite of it was just worth it.

Toffee Nut
How do we know the Christmas season has come to our tropical island? Other than the lights down Orchard Road, it’s when our friends go ga-ga every time they enter a Starbucks because they get to drink a toffee nut latte. What better way to take inspiration from one of the most commercialised retail store and make this popular drink into a macaron!

Toffee is an amazingly (probably too) sweet confection that involves caramelised sugar and tons of butter. So much so, that it was a pain to wash off all the grease afterwards. What we wanted was a thick sticky consistency that felt almost like they could glue your teeth together. Well, the kid in us used to think toffee were actually great tasting super glue. You could splash some rum for a more adult sweet (and we would probably add too much if we could). This was a rather carefree macaron as compared to the chestnut, albeit the wash-up.

Hazelnut Praline
Another nutty concoction but not as painstaking as the chestnuts. Watching Ned prepare the pralines was a pretty moment, the nuts were glazed with a golden brown sugary coat – they almost look like tiny precious golden glass marbles. You know how these translucent hazelnuts globes or spikes are used to decorate petite pastry creations, I felt like decorating my dressing table with them. And our Dad just stared at them, asking if he could pop them into his mouth.

Sadly, they all have to go into making our hazelnut praline macarons. These glossy babies were then smashed into pieces with a mortar and pestle (we have this granite stone set from our Mama – probably much older than us and one of the most precious items we have in the kitchen). This was my personal favourite out of the lot despite its humble ingredients; there was just something luxurious about hazelnuts with its distinct aroma. Or I really just like hazelnuts a lot in the first place.

Cranberry & Vanilla
Last but not least, we round up our Christmas collection with a dual-coloured macaron with the obvious cranberry and versatile vanilla. Ned actually bought proper vanilla pods which was probably too much of an expense. I think one can tell that we were losing money from this venture. Were we too silly? Maybe. But we always believed in giving the best, though not the smartest approach in actual business. Well, that’s one learning curve to hit.

We tried many ways to include the cranberry, either by adding its juices to the ganache but the vanilla was far too overpowering or having just the fruits which caused too much moisture. In the end, we went with the compote route à la Black Forest. The slight difference was that we jelly-fied the cranberry compote to give it more structure. The Cranberry & Vanilla combination was the simplest but also the most Christmassy macaron out of the bunch.

After weeks of experimentation and baking, we barely had time to sit down and actually look back at the past year. To be honest, we were pretty chuffed about how far we have come despite it being a short time frame. Thom & Aimee is barely more than a year old and we haven’t got bored of it (we do get bored very quickly but hey, here we are at our 100th post!!) at all. In fact, it only pushed us to better ourselves. So, 2014 – new beginnings, more cooking, fresh experiences and challenges.

Just no macarons. For now.

Millefeuille with Fig and Orange Basil Cream

Ah, we are on puff pastry madness. Following the previous post, we got lazy and decided to get the dough off the shelf instead of getting out arms deep in butter. Since we had some left, we decided to embark on our very first millefeuille. (Oh, didn’t GBBO cover it in the latest season, this shall be a signature bake then!)

The millefeuille is a pastry that feels a little daunting at the start. It’s a classic French dessert that you cannot ruin for fear of a revolution. Make a bad millefeuille and you will hear the people sing. Translated as “thousand leaves”, the sweet consists of thin delicate golden brown layers of puff pastry sandwiching luscious pastry cream and then topped with either confectioner’s sugar or glazed with icing.

We are steering away from the traditional vanilla millefeuille with an addition of fig, orange and basil instead. Before you cry ‘Sacrilège!!’ and hunt us down, hear this out: like many classic French desserts, innovation is not disapproved of. Take a look at macarons and eclairs, they have gone through experimentation in terms of varied flavours. In essence, the quality and the basic foundation should remain, but please feel welcome to be creative with the presentation and flavours.

We’ve added fresh figs to the dish, which we weren’t sure if it actually works on a whole. The orange basil cream overpowered the natural sweetness of the figs (or maybe the figs we got just aren’t fresh enough). And I know there were those who weren’t keen on the inclusion of fresh fruit in a millefeuille. But overall, interestingly, it worked still. The figs gave a different texture to the dessert – a moist, squishy burst of juices interlaced with the crispy puff pastry and herby zesty cream. We doubt we’ve done anything treacherous towards the land of proper pastries.

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Issue 10: Figs

As I write this now, Ned is in the kitchen preparing some items for this month’s issue (which will be pears). We thought we could get the momentum back on track but somehow, some events popped up and disrupted the schedule a little. A little promise to at least post the pear issue by the end of November. For now, it’s time for the poor little figs to shine.

Yet another uncommon fruit in our tropical climate, the fig is mostly associated with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and is one of the oldest plant in civilisation. Sometimes we feel like we are veering off our fundamental ethos of local produce, no excuse we know. But we couldn’t help ourselves from being seduced by these fragile dark-blue fruits (or should I say, flowers) with blood-ruby red flesh. Imagine the colours on the plate! I wouldn’t mind growing figs in the garden but (a) we live in an apartment, (b) the weather might not be suitable and, (c) I’m terribly terrified of insects with stings (figs are dependent on wasps for reproduction).

The thing with vegetables and fruits: they should be eaten straightaway once they were rooted or plucked for maximum enjoyment. That’s before the sugar turns into starch, and figs do not ripen after being picked. Which only means, the ones we get in the markets are usually quite bland (a tip, always look for ripe ones when buying – they should be plump and quite soft to touch). Why bother then, you ask. I think they still deserve a little chance, with a little cajoling, they can become a wonderful addition to any dish. And this was something we experienced first hand, or first taste.

Although we only do get one type of varietal in the market here, it’s good to know that there are other types available if you are able to get your hands on them (and if you do, you are obliged to share with us *evil cackle*). From purple and black fruits, to the hardier green, yellow or brown ones, and we’re not too sure how each differ from the other. If we could ever have the chance, we would definitely have a taste test of our own. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be happy licking the sticky red juices off our fingers (now we sound like perverse vampires).

One thing we found out is how versatile figs are: they go very well in both sweet and savoury dishes and can dance the tango with a great number of other ingredients. Such as honey, yoghurt, marsala or madeira, spice (cinnamon, five spice), herbs (rosemary, thyme), nuts, dried-aired meats (proscuitto, parma), fruits (orange, pomegranate) and amazingly, young goat’s cheese and those full-bodied blue cheeses (Stilton, Gorgonzola). If we had a basket of them, we’d be off making fig chutney and jams. A pity that we don’t get more of these babies on this island.

We can only say that we’ve fallen in love with this sensual fruit and will continue to lust for it until we meet again.

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